Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Kakuriyo -Bed & Breakfast for Spirits-
Blu-ray Part 1
College student Aoi Tsubaki has been able to see spirits since she was a child, a skill that caused her mother to abandon her when she was a little girl. Aoi's life was saved by a mysterious ayakashi who offered her food, and later she was adopted by her grandfather Shiro, who taught her how to cook. After Shiro's death, Aoi meets a strange ogre who asks for food; when she feeds him, he whisks her away to the Spirit Realm, home of the ayakashi. He tells her that she has been sold to him as collateral for her grandfather's debt and that she must marry him. Aoi refuses, telling the Ogre Master that she will work to pay off the money owed at Tenjin-ya, the inn the ogre runs. But can a human woman really fit in, especially one whose grandfather had a rather memorable reputation?
Kakuriyo -Bed & Breakfast for Spirits- is remarkable in a few ways. For one thing, it's an anime adapting a series of josei light novels, meaning that it has an adult female target audience, which is not something we see particularly often. For another, its heroine, Aoi Tsubaki, is a strong female character without the trappings that come from the Strong Female Character archetype; her strengths are in her personality and resourcefulness rather than what Bijhan Valibeigi describes in her 2015 piece on the subject as SFCs – “A character whose exterior qualities and achievements are designed to stand in contrast to her inner feminine vulnerability. She is given value because of her masculine traits; she is kept from being the protagonist because of her feminine traits.” While this can certainly be applied to other characters, Aoi is interesting because she never attempts to be anyone she isn't and her strength relies on that.
And Aoi is no one's fool. When she's whisked away to the Spirit Realm (as opposed to the Apparent Realm, where humans live) and told that she has been sold by her late grandfather to the Ogre Master of Tenjin-ya, her first reaction is a firm “hell, no.” It isn't that she objects to paying her grandfather Shiro's debts; she in fact seems to feel that she almost owes it to him because he took her in after her mother abandoned her. (Plus she loved him. He was her grandfather.) It's that she has zero intentions of just meekly accepting the hand of an ogre (oni) she's never met before, no matter how handsome, rich, and powerful he is. Aoi wants a say in her own life, and that means choosing how she's going to repay Shiro's debt. She consistently refuses to play any of the Ogre Master's games (which he eventually does realize are not the way to win her over), figures out Akatsuki and Oryo's issues relatively quickly, and basically powers her way through the story with plain old common sense and a firm grasp of who she is. It's nice to see, because not only does she act like she's a grown-up, she isn't unreasonably stubborn about her situation, making her someone who works with the story rather than against it.
Since the storyline is much more emotional than action-based, that's an important distinction. Although Aoi has known about the ayakashi, and interacted with them, for most of her life, she does still have things to learn about living in their world. She approaches this with a combination of practicality and wonder, using the skills her grandfather taught her to open a small human-food restaurant at Tenjin-ya while discovering what does and does not work with the various ayakashi. She's also hoping to discover the identity of the ayakashi who saved her life when her mother left her to starve, something that helps to set up the basic love triangle in the story. Until the end of episode thirteen, the two major possibilities (and contenders for Aoi's affections) are Ginji the kitsune and the Ogre Master, either of whom could have been the one to feed her. Both men show a marked preference for Aoi's company, with Ginji playing the role of her friend and confidante while the Ogre Master tries very hard to figure out how best to court her (and ends up learning that consent is a good thing), making it clear that he wants to marry her for reasons besides her grandfather's debt. That he's been watching her for a long time seems clear, but Ginji also knows a lot about Aoi, which muddies the waters. In any event, the Ogre Master's affection for her also raises the possibility that Shiro created the debt on purpose, as a way to make sure that the Ogre Master would have a reason to bring Aoi to the Spirit Realm, although whether he did that (and taught Aoi to cook ayakashi-friendly dishes) in order to protect her from someone or something or because he was trying to set his granddaughter up remains unclear.
In terms of genre, although Kakuriyo is most definitely an isekai story, it treads a line between being a fantasy romance and a foodie show. There's equal emphasis on both since Aoi runs a restaurant, and the series strikes a nice balance between the two. This allows for some plot points that might otherwise have felt awkward to be worked in, such as the story about the Emperor and his human bride, who ask Aoi to cook their anniversary dinner so that Ritsuko can eat familiar food – she's been in the Spirit Realm since the second world war, when she survived the bombing of Nagasaki. Food also allows Aoi an in with some of the pricklier ayakashi at Tenjin-ya, like Oryo and Byakuya, both of whom have to essentially be wooed into friendship with food.
Although the story is excellent, from the characters to the subtle way the feud between Tenjin-ya and Orio-ya is worked in, the art and animation both leave something to be desired. Character designs are lovely or cute as is appropriate (Chibi and mini-spider Akatsuki are excellent examples of the latter), as the show progresses they are frequently off-model or out of proportion, and the animation wavers in quality quite a bit. Both are consistently good in the opening theme and the varied ending themes, however, and there's a nice use of kimono patterns as backgrounds in both. Having the different ending themes for the various characters who feature in the episodes is also a good touch, and Byakuya's ode to his beloved tube kittens is especially fun.
The first half of Kakuriyo -Bed & Breakfast for Spirits- marks a clear halfway point for the story, and it definitely does make you want to see the sequel. The combination of the plot, the characters, and the folklore the whole thing is based on, as well as the intended audience won't make it a winner for those who prefer action, but if you enjoy lower-key stories with an emphasis on character and food, this may just be the series for you.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A-
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ Good characters who grow over the course of the show, nice combination of genres, strong voice casts
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